The Increasing Cost of Being a Comic Book Fan vs. Inflation

"...the 152% price increase is quite common in Marvel’s books..."

Like many of you, I have to struggle to live within my budget. And a big part of that has meant cutting down the number of comic books I read each month. Over the past few months I’ve personally cut about ten titles from my pull list; Ultimate X-Men being the latest casualty, and The Avengers being the next one. Like many of you as well, I distinctly remember when comic books were much cheaper than they are today. However, I didn’t just want to broadly claim that comic books are more expensive today than they were a few decades ago; of course they are, almost everything is. It’s due to an economic reality called inflation. This is the idea that goods and services become more expensive over time. So, I wanted to know if, when adjusted for inflation, are the current costs of comic books equivalent to what they were years ago – specifically, 1991 – or were they more/less expensive.

I picked 1991 as the starting year, because that is the year I first got into comics. Also, I was limited to comparing past comic books to the prices in 2010 because the calculator I was using only went up to 2010. (For those of you who are curious, I used the Inflation Calculator that can be found here: http://www.westegg.com/inflation/.) What I found from the limited research I was able to do, is that the prices of comic books are increasing at a rate greater than inflation.

To give you a quick overall idea of how much more expensive comic books are now than they were in 1991 check this out. In 1991, the average cost of a comic book was $1.78 according to Comic Chronicles statistics for 1991. When you adjust for inflation, a $1.78 is equivalent to $2.81 in 2010. While this number would justify a $2.99 price tag, the average comic book in 2010 cost $3.58. This means, that on average, comics are 77 cents more expensive than what they should be if we only allowed inflation to increase their cover value. This is an increase of 27.4%.

Average Comic Book Price: 1991 vs. 2010

1991 Average Price 1991 adjusted for Inflation to 2010 2010 Average Price Cost Difference Percentage increase*
$1.78 $2.81 $3.58 $.77 27.4%

*To get the “Percentage Increase” figures for this table and the rest of them I used this formula ((2010 Price – Inflation Adjusted 1991 Price)/Inflation Adjusted 1991 Price) x 100. So for this table, the math looked like this ($3.58 – $2.81)/$2.81, which is $.77/$2.81 and this is equal to .274. Multiplied by a hundred and we have a 27.4% increase in 2010 prices from 1991 Adjusted for Inflation prices. This is known as a Percentage Change Formula and you can learn more about it here.

As an average, the numbers provided by the Comic Chronicles include a lot of books that most comic book fans will never buy, read, or hear of. So to understand this topic better, I decided to look at specific popular titles that have been around since 1991 or have clear counterparts in 1991 and 2010 to get a sense of if the prices of these popular titles are increasing at a rate greater than inflation. In case you’re wondering, the overall answer is yes for DC and Marvel, and mostly no for Image/Top Cow Comics. I do want to note here that the books I selected were not picked because of random sampling, they were picked because these are titles that I’ve enjoyed reading for the past two decades. So while my specific findings don’t reflect the entirety of the industry, I do feel the results display a serious problem in the comic book industry; this problem being that the costs are simply too high for people to continue being fans and for young people to become new readers.

METHODS

The biggest comic of 1991 was X-Men #1 (Vol. 2). Written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Jim Lee, this issue had five different versions. The most expensive version of this issue had a special fold out cover and cost $3.95. When adjusted for inflation, the $3.95 is equivalent to $6.24 in 2010. It is extremely rare for a comic book – even a number 1 – would cost more than six dollars. The other versions of X-Men #1 (Vol. 2) cost $1.50 – which would be equal to $2.37 in 2010. Now you should know that even in 1991, the comic book industry had the habit of having issues 1s cost more than the following issues. So just for to cover my bases I also found that X-Men #2 (Vol. 2) had a cover price of $1 – which is equal to $1.58 in 2010. I repeated this step for X-Force and its modern counterpart, Uncanny X-Force.

RESULTS

This is where it becomes clear that costs of comics are increasing faster than inflation. The X-Men (Vol. 2) series eventually became X-Men Legacy is one of the cheapest X-titles (Uncanny X-Force after issue 1 and X-Factor also being sold for $2.99) and its price has gone up by almost 90%. On top of this, the price of standard issues of X-Men (Vol. 3) and Uncanny X-Men have increased by over a 150%. It should also be noted that this price jump isn’t localized to on the X-Titles. Another flagship Marvel title is the Avengers and in 1991 the standard issue of this title cost $1.00 (Dec. 1991, #342). “What did it cost in 2010?” you ask. The answer, $3.99, shows that the 152% price increase is quite common in Marvel’s books.

 

Marvel Comics

Title and Issue # in 1991 1991 Cost 2010 Inflation Cost 2010 Corresponding title & issue # Actual 2010 Cost Difference between Inflation and real price Percentage Increase
*X-Men #1 (Vol. 2) – Special edition $3.95 $6.24 —— ——– ——— ——–
X-Men #1 (Vol. 2) $1.50 $2.37 X-Men #1 (Vol. 3) $3.99 $1.62 68.35%
X-Men #2 (Vol. 2) $1.00 $1.58 X-Men #2 (Vol. 3) $3.99 $2.41 152.5%
——- ——— ——– **X-Men Legacy #235 $2.99 $1.41 89.24%
Uncanny X-Men #272 (Vol. 1) $1.00 $1.58 Uncanny X-Men #529 (Vol. 1) $3.99 $2.41 152.5%
X-Force #1 (Vol. 1) $1.50 $2.37 Uncanny X-Force #1 $3.99 $1.62 68.35%
X-Force #2 (Vol. 1) $1.00 $1.58 Uncanny X-Force #2 $2.99 $1.41 89.24%

* X-Men #1 (Vol. 2) Special Edition cost $3.95. When adjusted for inflation it would cost $6.24, because it was a unique variant edition I wanted to find a 2010 counterpart. Since I couldn’t, I’ve decided to leave the 2010 are for this book blank. If you know of a comic that would fit this, please let me know.

**X-Men (Vol. 2) was eventually transformed into X-Men Legacy and a new X-Men series (this being the third volume) was published. I looked at the costs for both series to better understand the issue at hand. Specifically, I compared the price of X-Men #2 (Vol. 2) to both X-Men #2 (Vol. 3) and X-Men Legacy #235.

However, it is important to point out that Marvel is not alone in these price hikes. Similar to Marvel, DC has also been increasing the cost of their comics at a rate faster than inflation.

DC Comics

Title and Issue # in 1991 1991 Cost 2010 Inflation Cost 2010 Corresponding title & issue # Actual 2010 Cost Difference between Inflation and real price Percentage Increase
Action Comics #662 $1.00 $1.58 Action Comics #887 $3.99 $1.41 89.24%
Superman #51 (Vol. 2) $1.00 $1.58 Superman #704 $2.99 $2.41 152.5%
Green Lantern #8 (Vol. 3) $1.00 $1.58 Green Lantern #53 (Vol. 5) $2.99 $2.41 152.5%
Detective Comics #630 $1.00 $1.58 Detective Comics #864 $3.99 $1.41 89.24%

 

What surprised me the most is that Image and Top Cow Comics have increased the costs of most of their comics at a rate lower than inflation. Only Savage Dragon has gone up faster than inflation. Other long lasting titles like Spawn, Witchblade, and The Darkness have only increased in cost with or lower than inflation.

 

Image Comics/ Top Cow Productions

Title and Issue # Year and Cost 2010 Inflation Cost 2010 Corresponding title & issue # Actual 2010 Cost Difference between Inflation and real price Percentage Increase
Savage Dragon #1 1992; $1.95 $2.99 Savage Dragon #163 $3.50 $0.51 17.1%
Spawn #1 1992; $1.95 $2.99 Spawn #199 $2.99 $0.00 0%
Witchblade #1 1996; $2.50 $3.44 Witchblade #140 $2.99 $ -0.45 -13.1%
The Darkness #1 (Vol. 1) 1996; $2.50 $3.44 The Darkness #87 $2.99 $ -0.45 -13.1%

 

Other Media

So what? Everything is going up in cost” you say. Well before I came to any conclusions, I wanted to take a quick look at other forms of popular media.

 

Other Entertainment

#1 Novel

1991 Number #1 Novel Hardcover Price 2010 Inflation Cost 2010 Number #1 Novel Actual 2010 Cost Difference between Inflation and real price Percentage Increase
Scarlett $24.95 $39.43 The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo $26.95 $-12.48 -31.7%

Video Games

1991 Average Nintendo Game (SNES) $50 – average price point $79.02 Wii Games $50 – average price point. $-29.02 -36.7%

Movie Tickets

1991 – Average Movie Ticket $4.21 $6.65 2010 – Average Movie Ticket $7.89 $1.24 18.6%

 

As the table above shows, popular hardcover novels have not changed significantly in price over the past 20 years. Also, according to a 1993 New York Times article (which can be found here), the version of Mortal Kombat for the home videogame consoles cost between $35 to $75. Adjusted for inflation, $75 from 1993 be equivalent to $111.72; however, the average videogame does not cost anywhere near a $111.72, and the most recent version of Mortal Kombat has a list price of $59.99.

Additionally, the magazine gameinformer recently featured a chart in issue 226 (February 2012) that displayed the average cost of cartridges over the years. In 1991 a SNES game cost between $50 and $60; when you adjust for inflation $60 in 1991 is equal to $87.81 in 2006. In contrast, a standard Wii game in 2006 was $50 – a price point that has continued into 2010. In other words, when you consider inflation, it is cheaper to buy videogames now than in the early 90s.

Lastly, from information gathered from National Association of Theatre Owners it is clear that the average movie ticket has gone up in price, but nowhere near the increases comic book have seen.

Conclusions

Now if you’ve made it to this point, thanks. I know it’s been a long article.

So why are comic books going up in price so dramatically. Well, it is not just because the price of goods and services are going up. As the previous table shows, other forms of entertainment have not increased in price so dramatically.

Another significant reason explaining the increase in cost: readership has been going down over the past two decades. As a result of a shrinking readership, the per unit cost of creating a comic book has gone up – this being because it is cheaper for corporations to buy in bulk. So for example, if you produce a product and suddenly the number of people buying your merchandise goes down by 50%, you will have to lower the amount of raw materials you buy to make your product by 50%. However, the amount of money you spend to buy those raw materials won’t go down by 50%. Depending on what material you are buying and other market forces, you could possibly only save a minor percentage of money. (Yeah, I know, this is far from a perfect example, but I didn’t have time to hunt down an economics text book for a better example.) (Also, I wanted to examine if wages for artists and writers were increasing, but that information is not publicly available.)

So what does this mean to me? Well it means that the comic book companies – namely DC and Marvel – are beginning to price fans and new readers out of the market. After all, I know that for myself, and I imagine many comic book readers out there, our disposable income has not increased at a rate greater than inflation. And if comic book companies can’t figure out a way to bring these costs down, they will only appeal to a continually shrinking number of readers.

Remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes

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